You wouldn’t be able to tear away from Rami Malek if you tried. Mr. Robot, USA’s new hacker drama, might hit too close for Sony executives, but it is a huge diving board for the young star. The premiere episode of Robot debutes tonight (it was already renewed for a second season hours before it dropped), and it’s a dark, engaging drama lead by Malek’s tortured hacker.
Malek’s Elliot narrates the opening sequence. He tells us that the “guys who are run the world are the top 1% of the 1%,” and they are coming after him. Elliot constantly sees men in dark coats gazing in his direction (they eye him suspiciously or watch him intently with cell phones clutched in hand). Are they real or in his head? He occasionally asks his captive audience if we see what he does. Paranoia from the get go, eh, USA?
Elliot is a cybersecurity engineer for Allsafe, but he has disdain for almost everyone around him. He proudly declares that he isn’t on Facebook, and internally sneers at Allsafe’s biggest client, ECorp whenever they stride into the building. Everyone at Allsafe refers to them as Evil Corp even though they account for 80% of their employer’s business. Whenever Elliot isn’t working, he’s typing away at him. He collects mountains of information on everyone around him—his childhood friend, Angela (Portia Doubleday) is dating a Maroon 5 loving cheater, and he sympathizes for his therapist, Krista (Gloria Reuben). Krista nudges Elliot to overcome his extreme social anxiety, but he can’t seem to even go into a crowded bar.
One evening, ECorp’s servers are hacked so badly that Elliot is called into help. No matter what he does to stop the spread of the virus, it only seems to spread. This leads him into meeting Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot, a hacker mastermind who tries to sell Elliot on taking down the very corporation that he is hired to protect. For some, the hacking scenes and the computer geekery could get very tiresome, but Robot manages to keep you invested in this “all-too-personal” topic.
The show succeeds mainly because Malek is in almost every single frame. His eyes are buggy and his jaw never seems to open enough to allow him fully speak. He is simultaneously jittery and calm, delivering some of his intense monologues (for instance, when he takes down a child pornography distributor in the opening scene) with a low-key, Olivia Pope-ian gusto. Instead of a closet of white outfits, he’s got a hoodie and a pack of smokes. New York City almost throbs during the pilot. The score never lets up, and it only propels you to keep watching.
The paranoia is pretty palpable in just the first episode, so Mr. Robot could easily become this summer’s indulgence. With a lead performance such as Malek’s, it should be as easy as guessing a douchebag’s Gmail password.
Mr. Robot airs Wednesday nights at 10pm EST on USA.